Chamber of Commerce Asserts Property Right Over Employee
March 29, 2012
HELENA, MONT. The Montana Chamber of Commerce is rating
candidates for the Legislature based on Chamber-asserted
employers' property rights over employees vehicles. A simple
extension of this logic suggests that employers could confiscate
and sell employees' vehicles to bolster sagging business profits.
Under this same Chamber theory, employers could require employees
to travel to and from work with mandatory employers' dangerous
substances contained in the employees' vehicles such as toxic
chemicals, radioactive wastes and explosives.
Critic Harry Morrison, an attorney who disagrees, commented, "The
broad claim of an employer property right over employee vehicles
is a significant departure from current law and places at risk the
investment any employee has in his or her vehicle. All the
employee must do, under this theory" Morrison explained, "is to
park a private vehicle in the employer's parking lot and poof, the
vehicle becomes the property of the employer. The employer
could then do anything he wishes with the once-private vehicle,
including using it as a place to store and hide toxic chemicals
from government inspectors, a practice that could put the employee
at significant risk while traveling to and from work."
This dramatic move is driven by Chamber support of an alleged
right by Chamber-member employers to prohibit employees from
having newspapers or Bibles in an employee's vehicle.
Chamber officials explained that some articles in newspapers could
be contrary to the interests of employers, such as stories about
union activities. Speaking on a condition of anonymity, one
Chamber executive explained, "We just can't allow employees to do
anything as unreasonable as having a newspaper or Bible in their
car. Abusive employees could possible read something during
a break period that would cause them to be distracted later from
their work. Employers are paying for their full
attention. It is clearly in the best interest of everyone
for employers to stake out this important legal ground. If
we can't assert full property rights over employees' vehicles,
then we can't prevent employees from having objectionable Bibles,
newspapers and who knows what else in their cars."
Asked if employers would actually confiscate and sell employees'
vehicles, the anonymous executive responded, "Employers provide
the jobs in Montana, and they must be allowed to do whatever they
need to keep their businesses functioning and profitable."
Susie Smithson owns and operates a Christian book store.
Smithson expressed concern that if enacted by the Legislature,
such rules might even prevent Smithson or her part-time employee
from having a Bible in a car in the store's parking lot.
"I'm not sure that's fair," Smithson said.
The Chamber spokesman commented, "For Montana to be a workable
place, we need to have simple rules that everyone
understands. What could be more simple than a law declaring
that if an employee parks in his employer's parking lot, the car
becomes the property of the employer. After all, the
employer owns the parking lot, doesn't he?"
When faced with possible opposition from the Montana Christian
community and the Montana Newspaper Association, the chamber
spokesman responded, "The Chamber represents the largest employers
of Montana. We get what we want from the Legislature.
Our members will pay for as many lobbyists as we need to convince
uninformed legislators that either we get our way or a there will
be no jobs in Montana. Legislators see the Chamber as
speaking for all employers in Montana. We have the political
muscle to get what we want. You want commerce - you do what
we say. Who cares about a few rusty old cars anyway."
The issue may be a contentious one in the next session of the
Legislature. The Chamber is already rallying employers to
take a stand. One employer even suggested that the principle
be extended to employees' homes on the theory that it is the
employer's money that is used to buy the home.
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